Rescuing language

From poets to punsters, the last week of the old year offered reminders of the importance of language even in the emerging post-literate age of computer bytes and bits.

The poets, a whole galaxy of them, were speaking out for peace in a large newspaper advertisement. But, as cherishers of precise expression, they made part of their appeal a rejection of the euphemisms and doubletalk that surround the nuclear arms race. These could tend to undercut the urgency of ending it. For example, why fuzz the issue by saying ''preemptive strike'' when all it means is hitting first? This was the kind of point the poets raised. There is a whole litany of evasive military terms that could be similarly brought down to earth.

To turn from the awesome to the ridiculous, the International Save the Pun Foundation also was heard from in the final days of 1982. In the wake of proof that there's a punster in the White House, the head of the foundation defended the pun from the perennial charge that it is the lowest form of wit.

Indeed, it might be said that punning, playing with words, is one way that people stay superior to the machine. So pun fast. Japan has just announced a 10 -year, $11.7 million program to develop a ''fifth-generation'' computer capable of thinking like a human being, with terminals reading and speaking various languages. Unless it puns, it will have failed. If it does, prepare for the worst.

The worst in another sense is recognized by the Society for the Advancement of Good English. It closed out last year with dunce caps for such lines from commercials as ''more cheesier'' and ''you did good.''

It was not a good year for the language, said the society's president. ''There are few good signs.''

Well, we see a good sign in those poets pruning the language of war, and in everyone who tries to use words to say what they mean, which of course goes double for puns.

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